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Ageing society

Pensioner tested ricin poison on neighbours in care home, FBI says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 8:12pm

An resident of a home for the elderly made ricin and tested the deadly toxin on her neighbours by putting it on their food or in drinks for several weeks, investigators said.

Betty Miller told an FBI agent that she wanted to “injure herself” and was testing the poison’s effectiveness on other residents at the Wake Robin facility, according to a criminal complaint.

A handcuffed Miller, 70, made her first appearance in federal court on Friday. Judge John Conroy noted that Miller had a “lengthy mental health history”, but did not elaborate.

Miller was placed in custody and was expected to be in court again on Wednesday. She said she was trying to get a lawyer.

Police were called to the care home in Shelburne on Tuesday after Miller told health care providers she had made the ricin and placed it in other residents’ food and beverages, the agent said in the complaint.

The Health Department said on Friday that it became aware of one person who probably became ill with ricin poisoning but said no one is affected.

Miller said she harvested 30 to 40 castor beans from plants growing on Wake Robin’s property and made two to three tablespoons of ricin twice in her kitchen, the complaint said. She exposed other residents to the ricin on at least three occasions, the complaint said.

Investigators found a half-full pill bottle with powder inside labelled ricin in a basket in a kitchen cabinet of Miller’s flat among other pill bottles labelled “apple seed”, “cherry seed” and “yew seed”, the complaint said.

The powder tested positive for ricin. Investigators also found instructions for making ricin that were apparently from the internet, the affidavit said.

If inhaled, ricin causes difficulty breathing and other symptoms. If ingested, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations and seizures. Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning are most likely to occur within four to 10 hours of exposure.

Wake Robin said in a statement that one flat had been closed off and the person living there would not be returning.

“We have received assurances from the Vermont Department of Health and the FBI that no one’s health is at risk,” it said.